HARARE – Amid the growing consensus within and outside the country’s borders that it is time President Robert Mugabe retired, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has reiterated his call for the increasingly frail nonagenarian to call it a day to preserve the little that remains of his legacy.
Speaking in an interview with the Daily News at the weekend, Tsvangirai urged Mugabe not to participate in next year’s make-or-break elections, repeating his promise of late last year that the safety and well-being of the nonagenarian and his family would be guaranteed if the opposition wins the polls.
The former prime minister in the stability-inducing Government of National Unity said even if some Zimbabweans who had suffered immensely at Mugabe’s hands wished to exert revenge on the 93-year-old, he was now “too old to face retribution” for the things that his government had done in his nearly four decades in power.
“I was talking to some African leaders recently saying look, it is not only an embarrassment to Zimbabweans, but the continent as a whole that a man who is this old can be so determined to hang on to power, for the sake of power and his family.
“We are saying you are safe. Your family is also safe. There is absolutely no one among us who is interested in vengeance and retribution because that seems to be his fear. We have no intention to pursue a retributive agenda,” the MDC leader who has suffered much over the years at the hands of Mugabe’s government said.
Tsvangirai added that if elected to office, he and his party would be preoccupied with building the country in the interest of all Zimbabweans.
“People are in a desperate situation and there is need to rescue them from this terrible situation. And if he (Mugabe) were to step down, it would be good for his legacy that he was not forced out of power.
“I think the opportunity is for him not to stand in the next election to give room for a smooth transition. It will be very unfortunate for the country if he contests next year … he has to make a choice between becoming a hero and a villain because that is what will define his legacy,” he said.
Tsvangirai’s advice to Mugabe comes as there are also growing calls within the nonagenarian’s deeply divided ruling Zanu PF for him to pave the way for a successor, to take over the reins within both the party and the government.
Analysts have also said Mugabe’s apparent reluctance to retire is stoking Zanu PF’s ugly infighting, which has escalated over the past few weeks with two factions going at each other hammer and tongs.
Tsvangirai’s call has also come at a time that there are growing calls by outsiders for Mugabe to end his long and tumultuous rule.
And as Mugabe is holding on tightly to the seat of power, elsewhere, long-standing Angolan president, Eduardo Dos Santos — a peer and ally of the nonagenarian — has just announced that he won’t be seeking re-election, in a move which brings down the curtain on his 38-year rule.
The firebrand leader of South African opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, recently savaged Mugabe for continuing in office despite his old age and poor health.
“Grandpa, it’s enough now. You must let go and allow other people to continue with Zanu PF. There are a lot of capable young comrades in Zanu PF. Very radical, very clear of where the continent must go.
“Zimbabwe’s situation is bad, President Mugabe can’t even control a spade. They were trying to plant a tree and he can’t control that thing. That’s how old he is. He’s no longer capable of discharging his responsibilities,” the abrasive Malema said.
Last year, the president of Botswana Ian Khama also bluntly told Mugabe that it was time for him to leave office without delay, and allow new leadership to take over as Zimbabwe’s political and economic implosion which began in 2000 was dragging down the whole of southern Africa.
Asked by news agency Reuters if Mugabe should accept the reality of his advancing years and retire, Khama responded: “Without doubt. He should have done it years ago.”
“They have got plenty of people there who have got good leadership qualities who could take over. It is obvious that at his age and the state Zimbabwe is in, he’s not really able to provide the leadership that could get it out of its predicament,” he added.
The ruling party is deeply divided mainly over its unresolved succession riddle, which has split the former liberation movement right through the middle — with the Team Lacoste faction rallying behind Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s mooted presidential aspirations, and the Generation 40 (G40) group rabidly opposed to the Midlands godfather succeeding Mugabe.
Last month, highly-opinionated Zanu PF member and businessman Energy Mutodi, threw the cat among the pigeons when he challenged the former liberation movement to hold an extra-ordinary congress to choose Mugabe’s successor.
He claimed then that Mugabe had become so unpopular in Zanu PF that “99 percent” of the party’s members now wanted him to resign before the eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections, as there was allegedly no way that the nonagenarian could win elections against the popular Tsvangirai.
“Mugabe must retire. What we must be discussing now is how we share power in Zanu PF post-Mugabe.
“It’s up to Mugabe himself to be really thankful to his loyalists who have helped him to remain in power for this long and not the opportunists who praise him during the day and denigrate him during the night,” Mutodi said.
Mutodi’s sentiments are also shared by war veteran’s leader and former Cabinet minister Christopher Mutsvangwa and his comrades, who have warned ominously that there will be bloodshed if Mnangagwa is not chosen as Mugabe’s successor.
Last week Mutodi was at it again, saying that Mugabe’s failure to manage his succession was likely to backfire as his future could not be guaranteed under a new political dispensation involving Tsvangirai and former Vice President Joice Mujuru.
“The opposition leader is a victim of political violence under Mugabe’s rule and will not forgive Mugabe and his corrupt ministers easily.
“A grand coalition that is shaping up between his (Mugabe’s) former deputy Joice Mujuru and former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai may end his rule, making him vulnerable to prosecution for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during his long iron fist rule,” the eccentric Mutodi wrote on his Facebook page.
Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country’s independence from Britain in 1980, has consistently refused to name a successor, arguing that his party should rather follow what he sees as a more democratic process — managing his succession via a congress.